India Service Projects
After establishing the Ashram in Sonoma, during his annual visits to India, Babaji was moved by the plight of young children living on the street and was inspired to build a safe home for them. With the help of friends and supporters, in 2000, Babaji founded Bal Ashram, a home for abandoned and impoverished boys, on the bank of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India, as a further expression of the teachings of sadhana and seva.
As Babaji’s vision for Bal Ashram grew, the Aghor Foundation (registered in India as Aghor Guru Sewa Peeth, an 80(g) non-profit organization) was set up to administer Sonoma Ashram Foundation’s social service initiatives.
Over the past 20 years Bal Ashram has continued to provide a home to orphaned and abandoned children, and other initiatives were started with the enthusiasm and help of Babaji’s students from around the world:
The K-5 Anjali School serves over 100 disadvantaged children, who would not otherwise be able to afford or access an education in the Samne Ghat and Nagwa neighborhoods of Varanasi. The school is tuition-free; the lessons are based on standard curriculum but also help students develop the tools of life. The approach includes yoga, meditation, visualization and understanding of the richness of Indian culture, as well as cultivating a deep appreciation of other cultures. Students are also give periodic medical check-ups in an ongoing effort to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment. Anjali School also employs 7 teachers and staff.
The Foundation is in the planning phase of building new, larger and better equipped classroom facilities. The new structure will also address our ongoing concern for the children’s safety away from the river flood zone.
For more information, please visit https://anjalischool.org
Bal Ashram is a safe home for boys and young men, ages 7 through 18. Many have lost one or both of their parents and come from impoverished, in some cases, abusive home environments. At Bal Ashram the children receive housing, food, clothing, and an opportunity to receive education and guidance. They are taught yoga and mediation, as well as hygiene, nutrition and social skills. Most of all, the boys living there find a loving home and family.
The Ashram is Babaji's home when he is in India. It is also headquarters for the Aghor Foundation, which oversees and administers social service programs in Varanasi, and serves as a platform for the Foundation’s spiritual, cultural, vocational and social programs.
Amrit Sagar (“Ocean of Nectar”) is a working model of the best environmental practices and a teaching center demonstrating traditional and innovative sustainable practices readily available and practical to implement. The ten-acre facility is situated on the undeveloped eastern bank of the Ganges River, a short boat ride from Varanasi’s city center. At Amrit Sagar, organically farmed vegetables, fruit and dairy provide food for the boys’ and girls’ hostels in Varansi. The Center is innovating with clean energy, safe water and agricultural production, serving as a working model for sustainability best practices. Amrit Sagar also provides jobs for local villagers and serves as a model for energy and food resource management.
Located on the Bal Ashram property, Project Shakti is inspiring and uplifting an ever-growing population of underprivileged women in Varanasi since its creation in 2009. Serving primarily uneducated, young women, the program provides training in a variety of skills such as sewing, tailoring and making traditional handicrafts. Classes are equipping women with the necessary skills to find suitable jobs, sell their commodities and launch their services in the local community - and thus earn their own livelihoods. Project Shakti has made several computer training loans, and in the near future, will offer loans for nursing and other vocational training programs. After securing a job and/or independent income, the women will return the investment so it can then be shared with be others.
Immediately adjacent to Bal Ashram property, Vision Varanasi Hospital began in 2007 by providing free, quality eye care to the underserved community, people who otherwise could not seek, receive or afford treatment. Most commonly addressed are refractive issues (glasses, lenses), cataracts, diabetic eye disease, and infections. Anyone with an eye problem can come to the Center to be seen and receive treatment. The Hospital also runs mobile clinics in the surrounding villages and remote areas. Dr. Ivor Wolf from the United Kingdom heads the hospital and clinics with the support of Aghor Foundation.
Our Ashram is located on the southern edge of the holy city of Varanasi in a peaceful setting that overlooks and has direct access to the Ganges River. It is the perfect place to immerse yourself in spiritual practice (sadhana) and selfless service (seva). Here one can experience tranquil living amongst the laughter of children and the open-hearted people who have dedicated their lives to selfless service. We have a daily yoga asana class and morning and evening group meditation gatherings. There are also opportunities for seva at our school, eye hospital, environmental center and women’s empowerment project.
We welcome yoga teachers from India and abroad to host group retreats with their students at our Ashram. For more information, please contact us at: [email protected].
We are pleased to support "Shanti Niketan" which is run by Rishi Pargatisheel Shiksa Sansthan, an NGO in Varanasi dedicated to providing quality education and shelter to children in need.
In Hindi “Shanti Niketan” means “abode of peace.” This hostel was initially founded to provide a home for girls who were orphans or had absent, abusive, or otherwise uncaring parents. Over time, and in recognition of the haven that it has become, the Indian government authorities have also designated Shanti Niketan as a temporary shelter home for girls and young women while their cases are under review by police and child welfare authorities. At any hour of the day, local police will bring girls and young women who have been kidnapped, who have attempted suicide, or who have otherwise been found on the street separated from their families, to the shelter. Often these girls and young women have no place else to go.
Currently there are 28 girls living permanently at the hostel. When a new girl arrives at Shanti Niketan, she enters a loving family environment. Each new girl is warmly welcomed and embraced as the newest “sister” of the family. "Deedee", the Hindi word for “elder sister,” is heard all the time at Shanti Niketan, as girls new and old, temporary and permanent call out to one another, laugh together, and support one another.
Founded in 2018, Sri Sarveshwari Samooh Institute of Yoga Studies offers daily public classes, specialized workshops and arranged retreats in the many aspects of yogic science on-site at the Bal Ashram campus. The Institute was envisioned and is operated by two of Babaji’s students, who have studied yoga science at India’s renowned yoga programs - the Bihar School of Yoga in Bihar, the Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (VYASA), in Bangalore and Jain Vishva Bharati Institute in Rajasthan. The Institute is also accredited as a VYASA yoga teacher training site. Classes are available in Hindi and English.
All of these projects are located on the Bal Ashram campus and administered through our sister organization, Aghor Foundation in India.
The Ashram is located on the southern edge of the holy city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, in a peaceful and clean setting that overlooks the Ganges River. A retreat or stay at the Ashram provides and excellent opportunity for visitors to be of service.
Babaji is in residence at Bal Ashram for a few months each year to provide guidance and inspiration for the community and to oversee the India Service projects.
Please visit the Aghor Foundation website for more information.